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Lions training camp position previews: Tight ends

The Detroit News
Eric Ebron

This is the second in a series of position previews ahead of the start of Lions training camp on Monday.

TIGHT ENDS

The Lions entered 2014 excited about the upside of their tight end group, but the players were a massive disappointment as a combination of injuries and poor play led to minimal production.

Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick last year, finished with just 25 catches for 248 yards, but that was far better than Brandon Pettigrew's 10 catches for 70 yards and Joseph Fauria's six catches for 74 yards.

Plus, Pettigrew was the primary blocking tight end and finished with negative pass, run and screen blocking grades from Pro Football Focus, so in 2015, the group truly has nowhere to go but up.

With a season of experience, Ebron should be able to become the threat in the passing game the Lions expected when they drafted him. Though he struggled with drops during offseason practices, Ebron's size, speed and strength make him a tough mismatch for opponents, assuming he and quarterback Matthew Stafford form a better on-field bond.

Though Ebron showed some blocking ability, the 30-year-old Pettigrew likely will remain the best blocking option. Coaches and players have also said he's still capable of being more involved as a pass catcher, which would make things harder on defenses.

Behind them, Fauria's seven touchdowns in 2013 showed his upside, but his off-field ankle injury cost him nine games and held him out of most of the offseason program, which could be a big enough setback to open the No. 3 job to the other tight ends in camp.

Roster locks: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew.

Bubble: Joseph Fauria, David Ausberry, Jordan Thompson, Casey Pierce (R).

Roster spots: Three

Top camp competition: With the top two jobs effectively locked up, the remaining tight ends will battle for the third job. Fauria has a leg up with his red-zone prowess, but the Lions could go with the best special teams option.

Rookie outlook: Pierce was highly productive at Kent State with 11 touchdowns combined the last two years, but will have to take advantage of every opportunity to beat out a veteran. Practice squad could be an option.

Breakout candidate: Ebron. With his speed he could become the offense's No. 3 target in the pass game if he improves his route running and catching skills.